On Nov. 6, 1869, Rutgers and Princeton (then called the College of New Jersey) faced off in what would become the first-ever college football game. About 100 fans showed up for the game, which was played in New Brunswick, New Jersey. When all was said and done, Rutgers came out victorious, winning 6-4.
However, the game itself looked almost nothing like the college football games today. Each team was made up of 25 players, as opposed to the 125-man active rosters college teams have today. During that first game, points were scored after a team kicked the ball into the opponent’s goal. Aside from their feet, players were allowed to bat the ball with their hands, heads, and sides to move it up and down the field. They weren’t, however, allowed to throw or carry the ball. Ten rounds were played with a single point awarded to the scoring team at the end of each round.
In 2019, college football will celebrate its 150th anniversary. So much has changed over the last century and a half. In 1943, helmets became mandatory for every player on the field. In 1958, Louisiana State University coach Paul Dietzel went from playing with a single platoon to playing with an offensive squad and a defensive squad. In the same year, the University of Houston signed the first two African-American football players. Warren McVea and Paul Gipson integrated what had been an all-white sport. The list could go on and on.
One thing that hasn’t changed is how integral traditions are to the game. Since the sport’s beginning, it’s been these traditions that have transformed college football games from mere sporting matchups to actual events. From pregame festivities to before-kick-off hype, halftime practices to post-game celebrations, and all the songs, chants, and cheers that take place in between, it’s the traditions that make college football stand out among all collegiate sports.
Today, Stacker has rounded up 30 famous college football traditions from around the country. Using various sources, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most recognizable and inspiring rituals. From the Iowa Wave to Mizzou’s homecoming game, read on for some of the best traditions around.
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A relatively new tradition, the University of Georgia’s “Light Up Sanford” practice started as a social media campaign in 2015 but has since become a fixture of the team’s night games. Right before the beginning of the fourth quarter, some 93,000 fans turn on their cell-phone flashlights while the band plays “Krypton Fanfare,” resulting in a truly dazzling light show. Former Georgia student Kenneth Hubbard described the notion behind the tradition, saying, “It’s about us being there for the team in the fourth quarter when we are rallying behind them…Whether we are up by 40 points or down by 40 points, we just want to make sure that [the team] knows the fans are there for them.”
During a 1916 matchup between the University of Texas and Texas A&M, two West Texas cowboys dragged a frightened longhorn steer out onto the 50-yard line. Officially a gift from UT alumni to the current student body, the animal became one of college sports’ few live mascots. His name, Bevo, was a play on the word Beeve, slang for a cow or steer destined to become food. To date, there have been 15 different Bevos; fans can follow the current iteration on Twitter.
According to Auburn University itself, the tiger walk is one of the most “imitated traditions in all of college sports.” Two hours before the start of each home game, the Auburn Tigers walk down Donahue Drive from the Athletics Complex to Jordan-Hare Stadium. But the football team isn’t making the walk alone—thousands of Auburn fans and students line the streets, cheering and yelling, in what is one of the most invigorating traditions in all of college football.
In 2017, the Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital was completed. The hospital lies directly behind Kinnick Stadium, where the Hawkeyes play all of their home games. During the 2017 home opener, the Iowa announcer asked all 70,000 fans in attendance to turn and wave at the fans watching from the hospital windows. It was a simple gesture that turned into a heartwarming tradition. Now, at the end of the first quarter, everyone in the stadium turns and waves at the children and their families, even lighting their cell-phone flashlights during night games so that the Iowa Wave can’t be missed.
Perhaps the single most tradition-rich game in all of college football, the annual Army-Navy game certainly has a host of time-honored traditions to choose from. One that stands out, is the “March On.” Before kick-off, the entire student bodies of both the United States Military Academy and the United States Naval Academy march on to the field in an impressive display of cohesion, before taking their respective seats.
The Ohio State marching band first performed its first Script Ohio on Oct. 10, 1936. Today, the formation is performed at every single football game. The honor of dotting the I is given to a fourth- or fifth-year sousaphone player.
Another university with a live mascot, the University of Colorado Boulder has a buffalo named Ralphie. Ralphie, alongside a team of five handlers, opens every Folsom Field home game, leading the team onto the field before completing a horseshoe pattern around the end zone.
While nearly every college in the country has a homecoming tradition, it is said that Mizzou was the first school to hold an annual homecoming event. Back in 1911, Coach Chester Brewer invited alumni to “come home” for the Missouri-Kansas football game, which was then, as it is today, a fierce rivalry. Nearly 9,000 alumni showed up, and Mizzou’s homecoming remains one of the biggest in the nation.
[Pictured: The 2019 Mizzou homecoming game.]
The official mascot of Georgia Tech is a 1930 Ford Model A sport coupe. Painted the same yellow as the Yellow Jackets’ uniforms, the Ramblin’ Wreck, loaded up with cheerleaders and the school’s other mascot, Buzz, races onto the field at the start of each game leading the football team behind it. The old jalopy has also inspired another major school tradition—the “Ramblin’ Wreck From Georgia Tech” fight song.
A traditional war cry, chant, and dance from the Maori people of New Zealand, the Haka was used as a pregame ritual by the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors up until 2007. After that year, they switched to the Ha’a, a similar war cry/chant/dance but with Hawaiian origins and using the Hawaiian language. Over the years, the team has fluctuated between the Haka and Ha’a, but what has remained the same is how powerful and meaningful the tradition is.
From the late 18th century until his 1949 death, Frederick Plummer attended 59 Harvard-Yale football games, carrying a small red flag, a talisman of Harvard luck, to each. Upon his death, it was suggested that the flag be passed on to the Harvard man in attendance who had seen the most Harvard-Yale games. To date, 10 different men have been responsible for bringing the lucky flag to Harvard football games, ensuring that the team remains as lucky as possible.
Mississippi State legend has it that during a football game in the mid-20th century a Jersey cow wandered onto the football field mid-game. The Bulldogs were ultimately victorious, and the cowbell became the school’s unofficial good luck charm. Today, Mississippi State games can be almost deafening because of the sheer number of cowbells that accompany fans into Davis Wade Stadium, ringing almost incessantly from start to finish.
The first time “Jump Around” was played at a Wisconsin Badgers game was during the Oct. 10, 1998 homecoming game against the Purdue Boilermakers. What started as a way to rev up the fans and the scoreless team, has become one of college football’s biggest traditions. Badgers’ fans from around the country look forward to hearing the House of Pain song at the end of the third quarter during every home game.
The University of Washington’s stadium’s close proximity to the water allows for a totally unique pregame tradition: sailgating. On home game days, small cruise vessels, as well as private boats, pack the Husky Harbor at Union Bay. Tailgaters can enjoy food and adult beverages on the water, before, during, and after the game, which takes place mere steps away.
Maybe less of a tradition and more of an entity, the Stanford Marching Band is certainly one of the most recognizable and loved (or hated, depending who you are) bands in all of college football. While other bands march, the Stanford band scatters. While other bands play songs, the Standford band plays notes, randomly. While other bands wear uniforms, the Stanford band wears whatever they want. According to former-director Dr. Arthur Barnes it’s all because the group is “the largest rock and roll band in sports history.”
Since 1921, Purdue’s Big Bass Drum has been booming its way through football games around the country. In 2015, the drum went under major repairs so it could continue to entertain audiences for years to come.
“Roll Tide!” is either the most beloved or most obnoxious chant in college football, depending on how you look at it. Yelled at every possible opportunity, the cheer is a play on the term ‘Crimson Tide’ which was coined by Hugh Roberts to describe the 1907 Auburn-Alabama game played in Birmingham. Alabama describes it this way: "The game, played in a sea of crimson mud, was the last game played between the two rivals until 1948 when the series resumed. The term was coined because the red mud stained the Alabama white jerseys crimson. Alabama held Auburn, the favorite to win, to a 6-6 tie, gaining the name the “Crimson Tide.” “Roll Tide” was said to illustrate the Alabama varsity running on the field. It was said the team looked like the tide was rolling in thus gaining the chant “Roll Tide.”
While many college and professional teams have come under fire for their racist mascots in recent years, the Florida State Seminoles are an exception. The school’s symbols, Chief Osceola and Renegade, have been approved by the Seminole Tribe of Florida tribal council. In one of the coolest college football traditions, Chief Osceola and Renegade lead the team’s charge on the field before each home game, throwing a flaming spear into the ground at midfield.
When Memorial Stadium was constructed in the 1920s, the excavated dirt was piled just outside, becoming what is now known as Tightwad Hill. Penny-pinching fans have been gathering on the unnatural land feature to enjoy the party atmosphere and watch home games ever since.
The official theme song for the state of West Virginia, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” has been played before every WVU home game since 1972. The song is also played after home wins, and fans linger in the stadium to sing along and take part in the tradition.
In 1965, Tennessee’s head coach Doug Dickey and band director Dr. W.J. Julian came together to create a unique entrance for the University of Tennessee’s football team. The duo drew up a huge T formation for the band members, that originated just outside of the locker room. As the team took to the field, they ran through the “T,” in a spectacle that has brought fans to the stadium well before kickoff ever since.
In the 1961 Rose Parade, Richard Saukko rode his white horse, Traveler I, down the entire parade route. Bob Jani, then the director of USC’s special events, spotted the horse and rider and persuaded them to act as the school’s official mascot. Today, every time USC scores a point, the marching band plays “Conquest” and Traveler, with a Trojan warrior on his back, gallops around the Coliseum.
Heard at Kansas sporting events year-round, “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!” was reportedly President Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite college chant. But originally it wasn’t the football team’s chant, but the science club’s. In 1886, chemistry teacher E.H.S. Bailey invented the “Rah, Rah Jayhawk!” cheer, which was eventually changed to rock chalk in honor of the limestone that surrounds the KU campus.
On the sidelines of every Yale University football game, eagle-eyed fans will be able to spot a unique member of the team’s entourage: Handsome Dan. Since the early 1980s, the happy-go-lucky bulldog, reportedly the first live-animal mascot, has cheered on the school’s athletes at all of their sporting events. 2019 Handsome Dan is the 18th iteration of the mascot.
[Pictured: The original "Handsome Dan," the first bulldog purchased from a local blacksmith by Yale College football tackle Andrew Graves in 1889.]
Since the 1920s, fans have been calling the hogs at Razorback’s football games. It’s said that the chant, a simple “Woo, pig! Sooie!,” was started by a group of farmers attending the game, hoping to encourage their lagging team into action.
[Pictured: Madre Hill leads a hog call in Razorback stadium.]
Back in the 1960s, Coach Frank Howard was given a rock from Death Valley by a friend. The rock supposedly contained mystical powers that could help the Clemson Tigers secure a win or two. Now resting on a pedestal at the top of “the hill,” all of Clemson’s players and coaching staff give the rock a quick rub before running down the hill, into the stadium, and onto the field.
An integral part of the Memorial Stadium game-day experience, Nebraska’s Tunnel Walk started 25 years ago, in 1994. Cameras film the team’s journey from the locker room doors, through the interior hall, and out on to the red turf, and the video footage is played on HuskerVision screens throughout the stadium. The tradition is electrifying and amps the Huskers up for the kickoff.
In 2007, UCF opened a new stadium, Spectrum Stadium, an on-campus replacement for their former downtown Orlando home. Along with the new digs, came a handful of new traditions, including one called the "Bounce House” by fans. When Zombie Nation’s “Kernkraft 400” blasts over the loudspeakers, which it inevitably does during every home game, the 45,000 fans in the stands jump up and down, literally causing the stadium to sway, a sight to behold.
The Washington Post called Texas A&M’s "Midnight Yell" tradition "one of college football’s must-sees before dying." At midnight the night before every home game, thousands of A&M fans pack Kyle Field, where five “yell leaders” lead them in chants, and the singing of the "Aggie War Hymn." What started out as a way for new fans to practice cheers, has become one of the sport’s most time-honored traditions.
During a 1949 game against The Citadel, the home team Gators found themselves being heckled by those in the stands. Insurance salesman, and Gators mega-fan, George Edmondson would not stand for the negativity, so he led the surrounding fans in a cheer meant to drown out the boos. Today, every Gators’ game starts with a cheer in his honor "Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar. All for the Gators, stand up and holler!"
Hanging at the exit of the Notre Dame locker room since 1986 is a simple blue and yellow sign that says "Play Like a Champion Today." On their way out to the field before every home game, each player hits the sign as a sort of good luck ritual. Head coach Lou Holtz, who hung the sign more than 30 years ago, told ESPN, "I told my players, 'Every time you hit this sign, I want you to remember all the great people that played here before you, all the sacrifices that your teammates have made for you, all the people, your coaches, your parents, who are responsible for you being here.'"
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